24th June 2013 · 0 Comments
By Edmund W. Lewis
On June 18, 2009 the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and racial segregation in the U.S. and sent the measure to the House.
Democrat Tom Harkin first introduced the measure years ago but wanted it passed June 18 on the eve of Juneteenth — a day of celebration commemorating the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the release of enslaved Africans from slavery.
That apology three years ago is not without precedent. The Senate passed another symbolic resolution in 1988 that apologized to Japanese Americans for the forcible relocation and internment of approximately 110,000 Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans to housing facilities called “War Relocation Camps” after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
Similar apologies have been made by a number of governments and groups that addressed atrocities like the Holocaust and the transatlantic slave trade.
The 2009 resolution in the Senate made it clear that nothing in it supports or authorizes slavery reparations by the United States.
Not surprisingly, not everyone was happy about it, judging from remarks posted on nola.com by readers. A sample of those remarks follows:
“Give me a break!!!!!” hisstbgirl1 wrote. “The United States did not bring them here it was their own people that sold them. They should feel lucky to be here, they were given land after they were freed and they are still receiving free benefits from the United States – Not only the ones who think they deserve everything for nothing but all the aliens, I have worked for forty years and have not received anything from the government except a tax bill. No one deserves anything from the past slaves. They have been receiving – free money free housing free food free medical. Get a life and get a job you got the apology that’s all you should receive. I am not bitter just tired of hearing about this crap.”
Metairie75 wrote: “Oh come on! How pathetic and sad and this only shows the weakness of the US senate not only to us americans, but to others around the world.
“I mean seriously now, this is soooooooooooo old and lets just get over it ok? Also instead of the US senate apologizing, how about the senates in african countries (if they have a senate) apologize first for being the ones that actually sold their own people to the white man. But no, its ok, we the USA will take FULL responsibility for our forefathers, whom none of us are related too, for this. Get Real!
“Also, my ethnicity and my people were enslaved for over 500 years! I’m from a european descent and I have studied about the enslavement of my ‘forefathers’ but hey now!…we havent gotten an official apology from the country and government! Should I cry and be upset for this? Should I walk around the rest of my life thinking I am owed something for this, and also walk around with a chip on my shoulder? NO! I move on in life, study the past, and hope it doesnt happen again and leave the past to be just that…the past.
“Can we please move on from this slavery issue?? Its old now! And I for sure as a european caucasian will NOT be made to feel ‘guilty’ in any way for something that took place over 100 years ago. No white guilt here people. Now get over it and move on!
“As for our US senate…come on now…we have other serious things to worry about and this is not one of them.”
“This is totally insane to keep harping about slavery. What’s done is done,” Apradams wrote. “The US govt. with all its welfare and set-asides can do no more.
“Descendants of slaves (assuming their are no more slaves here currently) need to get it going and bring something to the stage here, okay. I’m white but sometimes I feel like a freaking slave myself. Almost 70 and still working for the man. COME ON PEOPLE!!!!”
“Does this mean that all the white people who voted for Obama out of a sense of guilt over slavery will never have to vote for him again?” Astrid asked.
Gengen echoed those remarks by writing, “The whole country apologized when they elected Obama. I really believe that he was elected as an apology and a statement saying see we’re not in that old mindset of White only. That would be okay if he is truly qualified…I refrain from passing judgment on that until I see if I make it though this recession without loosing my job, house, truck, etc.”
While it’s often frustrating to read some of the comments on nola.com, it’s also educational and useful because it provides a gauge for the state of race relations in the New Orleans area. While some would suggest that there is no race problem in New Orleans and point to events that attract people of all races, these kinds of remarks make it crystal clear that there still needs to be work done to enlighten some area residents about the brotherhood of mankind and the need for sharing decision-making power, justice and equal protection under the law in a democratic society.
We don’t all have to like one another or join hands and sing “Kumbayah,” but it would be great if all parties involved could recognize and acknowledge the humanity, rights and dignity of all people.
It’s the 21st century but far too many of us are fighting battles that should have ended a long time ago. The reason that we continue to walk in circles is because we haven’t been brutally honest about America’s past and very little is done to teach that dark history in U.S. schools. We need to know everything that happened in the past in order to avoid making similar steps in the future, plain and simple.
Rather than have white and Black people talk at one another instead of to one another, it’s way past time for an open, honest dialogue about slavery and its lingering effects on race relations today. Instead of taking shots at one another, Black and White Americans need to summon up the courage, determination and resolve to confront this issue once and for all. That will require open, unassuming minds, a willingness to listen to divergent points of view and an acceptance of bitter truths that have the power to heal and transform individual lives and the future of this nation.
All we need to do is tell the truth and be willing to hear the different truths and perspectives of all groups of people who call the United States home.
Instead of fighting and degrading one another, we could be working together to come up with a game plan to address issues like poverty, violence and drug abuse and to reform public education in the U.S. America will regain its prominence in the global community when it demonstrates its commitment to living up to the egalitarian ideals written about so eloquently by those who founded this republic and recommits itself to ensuring the full development of every man, woman and child who lives here.
Being free and independent mean being free from tyranny of all kinds, injustice, social inequity, economic exploitation, religious persecution, political control, domestic terrorism, taxation without representation and unequal protection under the law. Being free means having the power, courage and wisdom to avoid the mistakes and inequities of the past. Being free is enjoying and fully exploring the right to simply be.
As we commemorate Juneteenth, Black Music Month and the 4th of July within weeks of one another and Marcus Garvey Day later this summer, may we also be reminded of an adage that many freedom fighters the world over have understood and uttered often: None of us are free until all of us are free. Hotep.
This article originally published in the June 24, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.